Today is the feast of St. Raymond of Penyafort. As readers will recall, I have an adopted son named Raymond, and having this great Dominican canonist as a patron saint played into our name selection. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I (or should I say, my son) was getting a Dominican “twofer,” as there is another great Dominican Raymond: Blessed Raymond of Capua, the spiritual advisor of St. Catherine of Siena.
Given Raymond’s special feast day, I thought I would share with our readers some further reflections on adoption and what it teaches us about God.
Adoption in the human family is often misunderstood today. Even more so is our adoption into the family of God, the Church.
Being God’s children by adoption doesn’t mean that we’re second-class citizens in the kingdom of God, as though God couldn’t have had “children of His own.” And it’s not some sort of legal fiction, as though He simply lets us think we’re His children to help our self esteem.
Rather, we’re confronted with the controversial passage that through Baptism we truly become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our adoption in Christ means that through grace we are able to participate in the very life of God.
If we were gods in our own right, we wouldn’t need to be adopted, just as if my adopted son Raymond were by birth a Suprenant, we wouldn’t have had to bother with all the bureaucratic red tape that goes with adoption in the human family. And if God were distant and uninvolved with us, we would not truly be His children.
Yet, as St. John affirms: “See what love the Father has shown us in making us His children, yet that is what we are” (1 Jn. 3:1).
The change that occurs in us at Baptism is even more radical than what occurs in an adoption into a human family, which itself is quite remarkable. One fascinating aspect of the adoption process is that the government issues a new birth certificate identifying the adoptive parents as the “real” father and mother. Adoption, then, quite literally changes one’s identity even on the natural level. Yet this pales in comparison to the supernatural change that occurs when we are baptized into God’s family.
Our adoption in Christ also has vitally important future ramifications. St. Paul sums up our adoption as children of God in Galatians 4:4-7. Verse 7 concludes: “So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” There’s the present reality of being children of God, but also the future reality implied by being an heir.
If something were to happen to me, all my children would equally inherit my fortune–such as it is–my adopted children to exactly the same extent as my biological children.
Even more, eye has not seen what God has prepared for us in heaven, our eternal home and inheritance, the mother of all nest-eggs!
I often remind my children that knowing that we have such an incredible inheritance should affect the way we live now. Our lives here below are invested with meaning and hope. And through our shared sonship, we are eternally related to all of God’s children, both in the world right now and those who have gone before us. This reality is known as the “communion of saints,” a reality that takes gratitude and charity to the next level.
I tell my oldest daughter Brenda that the fifty bucks or so she’ll inherit from me as my adopted child will just about fill up her gas tank, but what she stands to inherit as God’s heir will take her infinitely farther.
For a more comprehensive presentation of this vision of the Church as the “Family of God,” I heartily recommend the bestselling Emmaus Road book Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God, which I coedited with Scott Hahn. CUF members receive discounts on all Emmaus Road purchases.